And the Casting Director Said "Let There Be Morgan Freeman", and it Was Goooood.
"Bruce Almighty" is a good showcase of Carrey in, if not his prime, than the most lucrative part of his career. The idea of revisiting it in my twenties is nerve-wracking. Is it possible for me to tear apart a film that I once considered to be the pinnacle of comedy?
This essay is less about tying "Bruce Almighty" into current cultural trends, because I'm really not sure you can. It's more about examining, on a personal level, something that I once thought was hilarious and asking it with bleary, gin-soaked eyes, "Can you still make me laugh?"
"Booze Almighty": The Rules
1. Drink for Title Drops: That's the full title, "Bruce Almighty".
2. Drink when They Drink
3. Drink for Daddy Issues.
4. Drink when Bruce talks to himself.
5. Drink for catchphrases. Bruce has his own catchphrases ("B-E-A-Utiful!"), and he'll also try other people's catchphrases on for size.
6. Drink for miracles. For simplicity, that's every time Bruce or Morgan Freeman uses their almighty powers.
All the above rules apply. Also...
1. Title drops: Drink whenever anyone says the name "Bruce".
2. Drink when someone says the word "prayer", or any related word.
3. Drink when Bruce tries to train his dog how to pee outside. It's a joke that refuses to die.
All the above rules apply. Also...
1. Drink when Bruce talks to God. Either in person, or screaming up into the heavens without expecting an answer.
2. Drink when the homeless man with signs appears.
3. Drink when things get worse.
Krissy Pappau: Would probably do fuck all with godly powers, let's be honest (medium)
Pooh Daddy: Our sober companion and voice of reason (ice cream)
Vicky the Raptor Queen: Likes "Evan Almighty" better than this movie. It has animals (hard)
The Fuzzy Masked Man: His hatred of "Evan Almighty" intensified after spending nine months on a boat (easy).
Don't Name your Kid "Bruce"
We're going to have to look at God himself to figure that one out.
So, just making this clear, my issues with God in "Bruce Almighty" have nothing to do with Freeman. His acting saves the role and distracts the audience from noticing that the ways God functions in this world make little to no sense.
As established earlier, Bruce's flagrant abuse of power leads to a whole lot of damage. Tsunamis occur off the coast of Japan, dozens of people lose their jobs and/or go to prison to serve long term sentences, fiery riots erupt all over Buffalo...and all of this happens so that Bruce can learn to pay attention to people besides himself for a change?
"God is a mean kid with a magnifying glass," says Bruce at one point, "and I'm the ant". Well, if I'm to take this film at its word, he's absolutely right. God is an antagonistic, immature, BORED slacker who is willing to waste time allowing some dude to hurt other people to prove a point. To say nothing of the egotism he demonstrates upon first meeting Bruce. Remember that trick with the endless filing cabinet?
Yeah, I would too. As it is, "Bruce Almighty" is an entertaining film but it isn't actually saying anything substantial except "don't be a dick", and I think the core of that lack of introspection comes from the relationship between Bruce and God. Maybe if the film was more about the two of them interacting and less about Freeman letting Carrey sink or swim, the jumbled biblical references and religious attitudes that the film tries to insert would sort themselves out.
Then again, maybe our desire to see this kind of film stems from our ideal vision of God. "Bruce Almighty"'s God has a sense of humor and an ineffable knowledge of how people behave, and that suits the screwball comedy that the film presents itself as quite nicely. Maybe God is an asshole in this film because that portrayal lends credence to the existence of people like Bruce and Evan. Who knows? It works for this story, but it's not optimal.
Also God being a dick is the only reason "Evan Almighty" could even exist, because he clearly states in the Old Testament, as Fuzzy points out, that he's never going to do anything like that huge flood again. Sucks for all of us.
Things Get Worse
For the most part: yeah. It really does. I hadn't watched this movie since I was a teenager, and I still found myself laughing at most of the stuff I did back then. Carrey, even though he's played this part before, still manages to avoid being annoying in his hyperactive portrayal of Bruce, and a lot of the jokes are very clever. Plus, this film has the added bonus of showcasing Steve Carrell as a comedian before he hit it big. Who can forget that classic scene where Bruce manipulates the teleprompter on his lead anchor debut? Never before has gibberish been so compelling.
From an observational perspective, it really seems like Jennifer Aniston and Jim Carrey did NOT get along on set during filming. Their chemistry is next to nil, and while their relationship is supposed to be on the rocks from the very beginning, we all still struggled to see why these two were together at all. Aniston's Grace is so optimistic and spiritual, while Bruce is cynical and demanding. You would think that their relationship would have self-destructed long before they got five years in.
THEN Bruce gets his powers, and after fucking around for a day he surprises Grace at their apartment and wins her back with a stunningly romantic evening - complete with sexual manipulation! He gives her multiple orgasms from a room away and claims his reward in terrifyingly violent make-up sex (I still think this scene is funny, but DAMN). Grace wakes up the next morning to find that her breasts are noticeably larger; Bruce used his powers to alter her body.
Anyway Grace, to her credit, doesn't fall for his bullshit. Bruce then tries to WILL her to love him, even though he was explicitly told by God himself that he could not use his powers to control a person's free will. Grace takes this behavior as a sign that she's making the right choice in ending this relationship, and walks away for good.
At this point in the film, Bruce makes an effort to turn his life around and become a better person. Then, Grace's sister comes by to pick up her stuff and mentions to Bruce that when Grace prays, she never prays on her own behalf. She prays for Bruce and his success and happiness.
Here's where I got the feels, and where the film could have made an effort to say something real: Bruce peeks in on Grace and finds her sobbing alone in bed, praying for God to release her from her feelings for her ex-boyfriend. Even after taking the necessary step of ending their relationship, Grace still loves him. It's not like she can turn it off. Watching this sad, tired woman pray for the end of a feeling that once brought her joy is startling and moving - it touches on why people turn to prayer in times of need, and it's the only point in the film where Grace feels like a real person.
I'm a little horrified, honestly. No matter how you look at it, Grace was abused at Bruce's hands for a long time. The film makes no effort to sugar-coat their relationship; it seems fucked up beyond repair. So yeah, watching Grace end up with Bruce, changed man that he is, at the end of the film does not feel satisfying. The narrative worked up until the last five minutes. Bruce and Grace both remained in character throughout the film, and forcing Bruce to fail at something and start over would convincingly cement the lessons he'd learned over the course of the film. The "happy ending" feels forced, yet another example of a screenwriter going for the conclusion that is most convenient instead of the conclusion that stays true to his creation.
The film came so close to being more than a screwball comedy. I still love it to bits, but it's a more mature sort of love - I recognize the flaws in the diamond now. It's not a 14-carat ring anymore. More like a plastic doodad that my high school fling won for me at a carnival. Lots of sentimental value that I'll treasure forever, but there's much better stuff out there.
Drink when Bruce wears silly headgear
As the novelty newscaster at his station, Bruce is forced into a lot of crazy costumes during the film. My favorite is the umbrella hat that he wears at the giant waterfall.
Drink whenever Bruce hints that he's God
His powers go straight to his head. Bruce takes his temporary station very seriously, and often laces his speech with pretentious faux-biblicisms.
Drink when Bruce complains about something
He does it a lot. When he goes on a rant, try drinking the entire time. See how long you last.
For Your Inebriation is written by Krissy Pappau (Hollis Beck). All "Bruce Almighty" images are owned by Universal Studios Home Entertainment.